- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2015

The initial outrage over a British Muslim family being denied a trip to Disneyland is increasingly being challenged as reports emerge that U.S. authorities may have had good reason to turn away the party at the airline gate.

The plight of the Mahmood family has become a cause celebre after reports that U.S. border security stopped the 11-member party, consisting of two adult brothers and nine children ages eight to 19, before they could board a Dec. 15 flight to Los Angeles at London’s Gatwick Airport.

Mohammad Tariq Mahmood, 41, said in interviews with British media that the children were “heartbroken.” He said they planned to meet up with his brother in San Bernardino, California, who had planned a host of family activities, including visits to Disneyland and Universal Studios.

“It was devastating. We planned this trip for like two months,” Mr. Mahmood said in an interview posted Wednesday on the [U.K.] Daily Mail website. “Kids are excited, and all of a sudden some person comes and tells us, ‘You’re not allowed to board the plane?’ With no explanation?”

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office plans to “respond to the issues raised,” BBC television reported. In Washington, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate “whether leading GOP candidate Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims is being ‘implemented informally’ by department officials.”

“The British family’s refused entry reveals America’s hypocrisy,” said the headline of Ali Gharib’s Wednesday column.

Since then, however, reports have emerged suggesting that U.S. authorities had reason for concern.

Citing a Homeland Security Department source, CBS News reported that one of the two brothers had been denied entry two years ago into Israel and that not all members of the family had been turned away at the gate.

In addition, “his teenage son’s Facebook account has links to terrorist websites,” according to the Wednesday report.

Katie Hopkins, a columnist for the Daily Mail, raised a series of questions Wednesday about the Mahmood family, arguing that “there is another side to this story not being told.”

“When was the last time two grown men, took nine ‘kids’ abroad on their own?” she asked. “And since when was a 19 year old a child?”

She asked why the mothers of the nine children were not included in the trip. “So if Homeland Security were suspicious about the fact there were no mothers in the group, who can entirely blame them?”

Ms. Hopkins said the Mahmoods live in Waltham Forest, “a known hotbed of extremism,” and that Israeli authorities had detained the brother for eight days in Tel Aviv before sending him back.

“And if it wasn’t enough that two Muslim men from an extremist area of England, plus their nine children were flying together without any women, to set off alarm bells there’s the fact that they have confirmed links with Al Qaeda,” she said. “Yup. Intelligence was received about a Facebook page connected to the family address, containing extremist material sympathising with Al Qaeda.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mahmood told The Guardian that U.S. authorities “think every Muslim poses a threat,” while Member of Parliament Stella Creasy said other British Muslims have come forward to say they were also denied U.S. entry.

“A lot of Muslim constituents are now saying to me that they’re frightened about flying. They’re frightened they’re going to lose money, they’re frightened they’re not going to be able to see relatives,” Ms. Creasy told the BBC.

Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection insisted in a statement that religion is not a factor in determining admissibility.

“In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility,” said the CBP statement issued this week. “Specific grounds of inadmissibility can be found in INA 212(a) and list more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility divided into several major categories, including health-related, prior criminal convictions, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”

Mr. Mahmood, a personal fitness trainer who owns a business, has said he was told by Norwegian Air that the plane tickets, which cost about $13,000, would not be refunded.

While Mr. Trump called Dec. 8 for a temporary ban on all Muslim entry into the U.S., President Obama has repeatedly cautioned against bias against Muslims, saying such prejudice only produces more terrorists.

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